Ever get tired of going out to the same ol' local concert venues? Sure, you know all the ins and outs at your neighborhood club — like where to park and which bartender pours the best drinks — but where's the excitement in that?
Maybe it's time to pack up your bags and experience some music in another part of the country.
There are dozens of tuneful (and tune-filled) cities in America, but only a few truly great ones. The following are some of our favorite musical destinations (listed alphabetically):
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This groovy college town, home to the University of Texas, promotes itself as "The Live Music Capital of the World." Visit during the South by Southwest music conference (SXSW) —which features more than 1,800 acts performing at 70 different venues each March — and it's hard to dispute that claim. Plus there's the Austin City Limits Music Festival, featuring dozens of headliners each October.
Even when those festivals aren't running, this city always seems to be alive with tunes. Spend a weekend simply bopping up and down the Sixth Street district and listen to music blasting out the windows of numerous bars. When something catches your fancy — be it traditional country, indie-rock, Western swing or something else — then pay the usually small cover and step inside.
TOP ATTRACTIONS: Every city should have a small outdoor amphitheater like Stubb's, where one can dance under the stars and enjoy tasty barbecue; 801 Red River St., www.stubbsaustin.com, 512.480.8341. Also try to attend a taping of the popular "Austin City Limits" TV music series, which features major acts such as R.E.M., Coldplay and Willie Nelson; http://austincitylimits.org/blog, 512-475-9077.
WHEN TO GO: SXSW draws music lovers year after year. It's where you may see dozens of "hot new acts" perform in fairly intimate venues. The next fandango is March 16-20; www.sxsw.com, 512-467-7979. The Austin City Limits Music Festival is a three-day event with countless acts that have already broken into the big time. The 2010 ACL, boasting such headliners as Phish, the Eagles, Muse and the Strokes, takes place Oct. 8-10; www.aclfestival.com, 888-512-SHOW.
WHERE TO EAT: Barbecue is the name of the game in Austin, and the city's best is Iron Works BBQ; 100 Red River St., www.ironworksbbq.com, 800-669-3602.
WHERE TO STAY: The best hotel near Sixth Street is the historic Driskill Hotel, which puts you in the heart of the hustle and bustle but doesn't skimp on luxury; 604 Brazos St., www.driskillhotel.com, 800-252-9367.
Locals swear that the Chicago music scene has more to offer than just the blues. We'll buy that — having enjoyed a share of rock and jazz concerts here, but there's no denying that the blues makes this town a potent draw for millions of music-loving visitors. Legendary musicians from the city's past include Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Freddie King and Willie Dixon and fine contemporary players still call the Windy City home today.
TOP ATTRACTIONS: Pick a blues club, any blues club, and you're likely to find some amazing music being played inside. Our favorites include Buddy Guy's Legends (754 S. Wabash Ave., www.buddyguys.com, 312-427-1190), B.L.U.E.S. (2519 N. Halsted St., www.chicagobluesbar.com, 773-528-1012) and Kingston Mines (2548 N. Halsted St., www.kingstonmines.com, 773-477-4646).
WHEN TO GO: The blues scene achieves its definitive moment during the second weekend in June, when the Chicago Blues Festival takes over Grant Park for three days (next up June 10-12). The nation's largest celebration of the blues draws more than 600,000 fans to witness the genre's best players perform on three stages — for free. www.chicagobluesfestival.us, 312-744-3315.
WHERE TO EAT: A proper Chicago-style hot dog, served with mustard, sweet pickle relish, pickled peppers and tomato slices on a poppy seed bun, can be had at Gold Coast Dogs; several locations in the area, www.goldcoastdogs.net. For the best deep-dish pizza, visit Giordano's; various locations, www.giordanos.com.
WHERE TO STAY: Stay on or near the Magnificent Mile, Chicago's popular shopping district that is well served by public transportation. Two good spots are Hotel Indigo (1244 N. Dearborn Pkwy, www.goldcoastchicagohotel.com, 866-521-6950) and the Chicago Marriott Downtown (540 North Michigan Ave., www.marriott, 312-836-0100).
New Orleans, of course, makes our cut — so, is it really necessary to also include Lafayette? Absolutely. Louisiana's fourth largest city, located roughly two hours west of Fat City, is such an appealing hotbed of authentic Cajun, Creole, zydeco and other indigenous styles that it demands its own spot on this list. It includes the tuneful communities of Eunice, Opelousas and Breaux Bridge. Most everyone in the region seems to play an instrument, and the neighborly jam sessions are a sight to behold.
TOP ATTRACTIONS: Renowned Cajun musicians Marc and Ann Savoy run the Savoy Music Center, where some of the most beautifully crafted accordions are made. On Saturday mornings, the Savoys host the region's most fabled jam session; 4413 Hwy 190 East, Eunice, www.savoymusiccenter.com, 337-457-9563. Top Cajun bands and other artists perform Thursdays through Sundays at the cool honky-tonk Blue Moon Saloon; 215 E. Convent St., Lafayette, http://bluemoonpresents.com/, 877-766-2583.
WHEN TO GO: Lafayette's Festival International de Louisiane offers more than 100 Cajun, Zydeco and other acts performing over five days each spring, the next one April 27-May 1; www.festivalinternational.com. The nearby Baton Rouge Blues Festival also usually happens around the same time; www.batonrougebluesfestival.org.
WHERE TO EAT: Cafe des Amis hosts an incredibly popular zydeco breakfast every Saturday. People come from all over to eat beignets, drink mimosas and dance to hot zydeco music; 140 E. Bridge St., Breaux Bridge, www.cafedesamis.com, 337.507.3398. Also make plans for a decadent meal of lump crabmeat sauteed in butter or stuffed flounder at Poorboy's Riverside Inn; 221 Beverly Drive, Lafayette, www.poorboysriversideinn.com, 866-837-6650.
WHERE TO STAY: A spot near the airport (Lafayette Regional Airport) makes sense for exploring the area. Try the Staybridge Suites; 129 E Kaliste Saloom Rd., Lafayette, www.staybridge.com, 337-267-4666.
Over the last 20 years, Sin City has become a prime destination for major touring acts. U2, Jimmy Buffett and the Dave Matthews Band are just a few biggies who have played Las Vegas, but then again, they also play just about every other big city. The whole point of traveling is to experience something that you can't get near home, right? That's why we recommend seeing some truly glitzy, unabashedly over-the-top and oh-so-Vegas productions
TOP ATTRACTIONS: The glitziest production on the Strip may well be Cher's ongoing residency, which has just entered its second year at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace; www.cherlasvegas.net, 866-510-2437. Also recommended is Barry Manilow's run at the Paris Las Vegas; www.parislasvegas.com, 866-462-5982. Manilow doesn't have Cher's sense of pizazz (or her abundant wardrobe), but he does boast such fine sing-a-longs as "Mandy" and "Can't Smile Without You." Also, the new Cirque du Soleil show "Viva Elvis" at the beautiful Aria hotel (www.cirquedusoleil.com, 877-25-ELVIS) is nearly as good as the company's Beatles tribute "Love" at the Mirage (800-963-9634). Those traveling with kids should try the "Lion King" at Mandalay Bay (www.mandalaybay.com, 877-632-7400), since it does feature music by Elton John.
WHEN TO GO: Avoid Fridays and Saturdays — Vegas' busiest time — and you can save a bundle of dough. Hotel rooms, even at the swankiest spots, are sharply discounted midweek. Just be sure to check your performance schedule before booking a room.
WHERE TO EAT: Seemingly every hotel here has two or three restaurants worth trying. For one of the most elaborate (and pricey) meals imaginable, make a reservation at legendary French chef Joel Robuchon's self-named restaurant at the MGM Grand; www.mgmgrand.com, 702-891-7925. For a more casual dining experience, we recommend the small plates at Spanish chef Julian Serrano's eponymous establishment at Aria; www.arialasvegas.com, 877-230-2742. And Vegas is a buffet town, and one of our favorite all-you-can-eat spots is Le Village Buffet at the Paris; www.parislasvegas.com, 702-946-7000.
WHERE TO STAY: The Hard Rock Hotel (www.hardrockhotel.com, 800-693-7625) might seem like a good base for your musical vacation, but it's too far off the Strip for our money. Instead, we like the comfy Paris (877-796-2093, www.parislasvegas.com), which puts visitors right in the middle of the action.
Fat City offers the country's richest and most diverse musical smorgasbord. A trip to New Orleans is both a marathon and a sprint, in that music lovers need to run as fast as they can, for as long as they can, to try to keep pace with the thriving music scene. On some weekends — such as during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival each spring — the highly caffeinated listener can literally enjoy live music around the clock. New Orleans wears its legacy as "the birthplace of jazz" quite proudly. Walk down the streets, even amid the drunken frat boys swilling $1 hurricanes, and it's not hard to feel the presence of Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and all the other legends who once called Crescent City home.
TOP ATTRACTIONS: The party is always in full swing at Tipitina's, New Orleans' famously funky home for R&B, jam-rock and groove-oriented jazz; 501 Napoleon Ave., www.tipitinas.com, 504-895-8477. History buffs should catch a traditional New Orleans-style jazz show at Preservation Hall; 726 Saint Peter St., www.preservationhall.com, 504-522-2841.
WHEN TO GO: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which ranks as one of the nation's premier music events, features hundreds of acts performing over two extended weekends each spring (next held April 22-24 and April 28-May 1); www.nojazzfest.com. Those who want to avoid the crowds, however, should pick some other time to visit.
WHERE TO EAT: At Brennan's, order the "typical New Orleans breakfast," which consists of enough food to feed four for a week and is topped off with the best bananas Foster you'll likely ever taste; Brennan's Restaurant, 417 Royal St., www.brennansneworleans.com, 504-525-9711.
WHERE TO STAY: Don't spend a bundle on accommodations — you'll only be sleeping there. Near popular Bourbon Street, try the Holiday Inn Express French Quarter; 221 Cardondelet St., www.hiexpress.com, 504-962-0800.
Any excuse to visit Seattle is a good one, and music lovers will find plenty of reasons to venture into the Emerald City. Seattle's rock 'n' roll legacy is substantial, and it's been nicely memorialized by its citizens. Throughout the area, you'll find recognition of such legendary Seattle rockers as Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. Seattle is best known as the birthplace of early-'90s grunge-rock, yet a journey through its current club scene provides much more than a nostalgia trip.
TOP ATTRACTIONS: Some claim that the Experience Music Project is even better than the "official" rock 'n' roll museum in Cleveland. Financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, EMP has hosted many stellar exhibits, including ones focused on Hendrix, Nirvana and disco music; 325 5th Ave. North, www.empsfm.org, 206-770-2702. Jazz fans should check out Dimitriou's Jazz Alley (2033 6th Ave., www.jazzalley.com, 206.441.9729), while rockers should head for the Showbox at the Market (1426 1st Ave., www.showboxonline.com, 800-745-3000).
WHEN TO GO: Schedule your trip during the oddly named, but vastly appealing, Bumbershoot music festival set for Sept. 4-6. More than 250 rockers, world musicians and other artists will perform during the three-day affair; Seattle Center, http://bumbershoot.org/, 800-745-3000. Otherwise, any time during the summer, when the weather is relatively dry and warm, would work.
WHERE TO EAT: Grab a Deluxe Burger, some fries and an old-fashioned milkshake at Dick's Drive-In; 115 Broadway East, www.ddir.com, 206-323-1300. The inexpensive fast-food joint was immortalized in Seattle rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot's 1989 hit "Posse on Broadway."
WHERE TO STAY: It doesn't get much more hip than the W Seattle; 1112 4th Ave., www.starwoodhotels.com, 206-264-6000. The 26-story hotel, with ultramodern amenities, is located downtown and boasts a fabulous bar/restaurant, Earth & Ocean.
THE OTHER 10
CLEVELAND: Home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; www.positivelycleveland.com
DENVER: Hearing music at Red Rocks Amphitheatre is an experience that should not be missed; www.denver.org
DETROIT: If you go to just one music museum in your life, make it Motown's; www.visitdetroit.com
LOS ANGELES: See the Capitol Records building, Hollywood Bowl and the Whisky A Go Go; http://discoverlosangeles.com/
MEMPHIS: The site of Elvis Presley's Graceland and so much more; www.memphistravel.com
MINNEAPOLIS: Where Purple reigns, and punk still thrives; www.minneapolis.org
NASHVILLE: The capital of country music; www.visitmusiccity.com
NEW YORK: The Big Apple has equally tasty options for jazz, rock and classical music fans; www.nycgo.com
OAKLAND/BERKELEY: Yoshi"s, Freight & Salvage and Greek Theatre all number among the nation"s best concert venues; http://oaklandcvb.com/
SAN FRANCISCO: Where the '60s Flower Power movement bloomed; www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com